Today in 1973: Last-lap heartbreak in first Swedish GP

1973 Swedish Grand Prix flashback

Denny Hulme, McLaren, Anderstorp, 1973The first ever Swedish Grand Prix, held on this day 40 years, very nearly had a fairytale finish.

Over 50,000 spectators turned up at Anderstorp to see if Ronnie Peterson would score his overdue first grand prix victory – and do so at his first home race.

He led every lap of the way but as he took to the main straight for the final time a rival was looming large in his mirrors and poised to spoil the party.

Sweden’s first world championship race

Lotus had dominated the 1972 season. Emerson Fittipaldi’s haul of 61 points was sufficient to make him the youngest-ever drivers’ champion and to deliver the constructors’ championship for his team.

That was fortunate, because his team mate Dave Walker had contributed nothing to Lotus’s points haul. Acknowledging the need to field a stronger line-up, Colin Chapman hired Peterson to partner Fittipaldi in 1973.

Rival team principal Bernie Ecclestone was working on more than just driver line-ups. He had also taken an active role in promoting F1 races, and added home races for both Fittipaldi and Peterson to the 1973 calendar. Fittipaldi had delivered for his fans in Brazil and the prospect of Peterson doing the same at home was strongly anticipated.

At 15 rounds, the 1973 world championship season was longer than it had ever been. For Sweden’s first world championship race Ecclestone approached Prince Bertil to arrange sponsorship from Japanese technology firm Hitachi.

The Scandinavian Raceway at Anderstorp was built on the site of an airfield, using the former runway for a long, wide back straight.

Unusually its start and finish lines were at separate points on the track. The Commission Sportive Internationale (fore-runner to the FIA), who had inspected the circuit five years earlier, decided the start line must be on a longer straight than the one chosen by the race organisers, where the pits had already been built.

Jackie Stewart found the latest addition to the calendar easy to learn but challenging to master. “It’s quite a difficult circuit to drive quickly,” he said.

“It looks very simple and in fact you can go round moderately quickly without a great deal of trouble, a couple of seconds off a fast time is a doddle, it really is easy. But getting down to the fast time, the sort of pole position time is another question.”

In the timing centre, located at the finishing line, the organisers had obtained a cutting-edge piece of apparatus as Denis Jenkinson recalled in MotorSport’s race report:

“The timekeepers were using a clever computer to produce results and it was programmed merely to remember and record each car’s best lap and then to discard any slower ones, so that it threw away all the times that showed no improvement on the ‘remembered’ time, which left us with only the cumulative best time for each driver, along with the cumulative number of laps each driver had completed.”

“He’s Swedish, you must stretch it by a lap…”

Peterson was the driver to beat throughout practice during which Chapman used every available means to ensure he got the maximum track time. As Peterson prepared to head out late in one session he urged a steward: “One more lap for Ronnie, please. He’s Swedish, you must stretch it by a lap or two…”

Francois Cevert came close to taking pole position but it went to Peterson by less than a tenth of a second. Their world champion team mates lined up on the second row, Stewart and Fittipaldi each having won three of the preceding six races.

Denny Hulme qualified the new McLaren M23 on the third row of the grid. Ferrari were enduring a miserable year and only sent a single entry for Jacky Ickx, leaving Aruto Merzario without a drive. Later in the year they missed two races while they tried to sort out the problems with their 312B3.

Having made their F1 debut in the previous round at Monaco, Hesketh and driver James Hunt skipped the Swedish race.

Another driver who was not present was Nanni Galli, who called time on his career with Frank Williams’ Iso Marlboro squad. Danish driver Tom Belso was given the chance to drive his car in practice but did not start the race.

1973 Canadian Grand Prix grid

Row 1 1. Ronnie Peterson 1’23.810
Lotus-Ford
2. Fran?â?şois Cevert 1’23.899
Tyrrell-Ford
Row 2 3. Jackie Stewart 1’23.912
Tyrrell-Ford
4. Emerson Fittipaldi 1’24.084
Lotus-Ford
Row 3 5. Carlos Reutemann 1’24.489
Brabham-Ford
6. Denny Hulme 1’24.625
McLaren-Ford
Row 4 7. Peter Revson 1’24.937
McLaren-Ford
8. Jacky Ickx 1’25.604
Ferrari
Row 5 9. Jean-Pierre Beltoise 1’25.738
BRM
10. Mike Hailwood 1’25.776
Surtees-Ford
Row 6 11. Howden Ganley 1’25.800
Iso Marlboro-Ford
12. Clay Regazzoni 1’25.995
BRM
Row 7 13. Wilson Fittipaldi 1’26.127
Brabham-Ford
14. Reine Wisell 1’26.187
March-Ford
Row 8 15. Niki Lauda 1’26.211
BRM
16. Carlos Pace 1’26.255
Surtees-Ford
Row 9 17. Jackie Oliver 1’26.305
Shadow-Ford
18. Graham Hill 1’26.382
Shadow-Ford
Row 10 19. George Follmer 1’26.632
Shadow-Ford
20. Jean-Pierre Jarier 1’26.874
March-Ford
Row 11 21. Mike Beuttler 1’28.580
March-Ford

Withdrawn: Tom Belso, Iso-Marlboro – 1’28.972

Delayed start

Start, Anderstorp, 1973 Swedish Grand PrixThe Swedish fans had to wait a little longer than expected for their first glimpse of F1 action. The race was due to start at half past one in the afternoon but was delayed due to an argument over the positioning of photographers near the first corner. Denny Hulme led the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association’s attempt to have them moved to a safer place.

Once that was taken care of the formation lap began. Reine Wisell, the other Swedish driver in the field, pulled off with broken front-left suspension on his bright yellow March before he could take the start.

Peterson made a tyre-smoking start while Fittipaldi blasted the other Lotus up to second place. The two Tyrrells, Cevert leading Stewart, took up the pursuit.

Graham Hill went off at the first corner and although he continued his Shadow soon came to a stop with ignition trouble. At the start of lap two Wilson Fittipaldi crashed his Brabham at the hairpin.

At the front the order settled down and the two Lotuses led the two Tyrrells for much of the race. On lap 33 Stewart passed his team mate and tried to apply some pressure to the Lotuses.

Despite being in their fourth season the 72s still had an edge on performance. But their reliability could be suspect. Fittipaldi began to struggle with his rear brakes as oil from the gearbox dripped onto the discs, leaving him to rely only on his front brakes.

Hulme fights his way forward

Ronnie Peterson, Lotus, Anderstorp, 1973Meanwhile Cevert dropped back into the clutches of Hulme. But as they lapped slower cars Jackie Oliver ran wide, kicking up dirt which lodged in the throttle slides of Hulme’s car. Hulme pumped the throttle pedal while switching his Cosworth DFV off in the corners, trying to loosen the slides. They eventually freed up – but by then he had lost 15 seconds.

Hulme turned off the rev limiter and resumed the chase, quickly latching onto Cevert’s tail. This time the pair came up to lap Hulme’s team mate Peter Revson, who made life difficult for Cevert allowing ‘The Bear’ to get by.

His chances were improved as Stewart also began to experience braking problems. Hulme passed the Tyrrell and Fittipaldi as well, the Lotus’s gearbox surrendering with four laps to go.

With his closest rivals suffering problems Peterson finally looked on course to finally score his first grand prix win and make amends for his near-miss in Spain three races earlier.

But he too was in trouble. Increasingly troubled by a slow leak in his left-rear tyre, Peterson was surprised to see Hulme gaining rapidly. As they came onto the long back straight for the last time, Hulme had the Lotus in his sights.

“Now, when you’re a Swede and you look as though you’re about to win the Swedish Grand Prix, you don’t stand any nonsense from bears,” Hulme later recalled.

“So he came moving across to the right, just as I knew he would and that was the signal for the Fastest Bear in the World to go sailing back across his slipstream and I slingshot down past the Lotus right on line for the corner at the end of the straight.”

Hulme had been lying fifth with 20 laps to go and in the drama of his late-race charge had lost track of the number of laps remaining. When he took Peterson on the final lap he thought he had at least four more to run.

The McLaren driver took the flag first with Peterson limping in four seconds behind. Cevert and Reutemann were next followed by Stewart. Ickx claimed the final point for Ferrari.

1973 Canadian Grand Prix result

Pos. No. Driver Team Laps Gap/reason
1 7 Denny Hulme McLaren-Ford 80
2 2 Ronnie Peterson Lotus-Ford 80 4.039
3 6 Francois Cevert Tyrrell-Ford 80 14.667
4 10 Carlos Reutemann Brabham-Ford 80 18.068
5 5 Jackie Stewart Tyrrell-Ford 80 25.998
6 3 Jacky Ickx Ferrari 79 1 lap
7 8 Peter Revson McLaren-Ford 79 1 lap
8 15 Mike Beuttler March-Ford 78 2 laps
9 19 Clay Regazzoni BRM 77 3 laps
10 24 Carlos Pace Surtees-Ford 77 3 laps
11 25 Howden Ganley Iso Marlboro-Ford 77 3 laps
12 1 Emerson Fittipaldi Lotus-Ford 76 4 laps
13 21 Niki Lauda BRM 75 5 laps
14 16 George Follmer Shadow-Ford 74 6 laps
Not classified
20 Jean-Pierre Beltoise BRM 57 Engine
17 Jackie Oliver Shadow-Ford 50 Suspension
23 Mike Hailwood Surtees-Ford 41 Tyre
14 Jean-Pierre Jarier March-Ford 37 Throttle
12 Graham Hill Shadow-Ford 18 Ignition
11 Wilson Fittipaldi Brabham-Ford 0 Accident
27 Reine Wisell March-Ford 0 Did not start

Peterson’s gut-wretching misfortune was Hulme and McLaren’s gain. It was the first of 16 wins for the M23.

The car’s performance was not lost on Fittipaldi, who was beginning to tire of the pressure from Peterson and frustration of Lotus unreliability. That month he began negotiations with Texaco and Marlboro to fund a big-money switch to McLaren the following year.

The Swedish Grand Prix remained on the calendar for five years but never saw a home winner. But in 2007 the World Touring Car Championship made a one-off return to a little-changed track where, in a reversal of fortune, Rickard Rydell took a surprise last-lap home victory.

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19 comments on Today in 1973: Last-lap heartbreak in first Swedish GP

  1. stefano (@alfa145) said on 17th June 2013, 12:49

    Good article as always, just a thing: the right name it’s Arturo Merzario, I think it’s just error of digitation.
    Bye!

  2. I Love the Pope said on 17th June 2013, 13:42

    Great stuff! Always fun to read these.

  3. electrolite (@electrolite) said on 17th June 2013, 16:56

    I would love to see a Grand Prix back in Scandinavia again. An area of the world that genuinely has a racing heritage…

  4. Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 17th June 2013, 19:44

    There were so many good drivers on that starting grid!

    Fully agreed with @electrolite though: a Scandinavian Grand Prix (I’d suggest Finnish) would be much more welcome than one in Thailand as there are actually Finnish drivers on the grid and have been throughout the sport’s history! Unfortunately, Bernie just thought “Phuket” and took the money. :(

    • Diego (@ironcito) said on 18th June 2013, 13:08

      Finland would be great, and there should also be a French GP again. I understand that the current thinking is to create a GP to generate interest in racing, not the other way around, but those two countries deserve to have their GP.

      • Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 18th June 2013, 22:18

        @ironcito precisely: they should have Grand Prix in countries where there is significant interest in F1. That I’d say includes France, Finland, Germany, Britain, Spain (while Alonso’s here), Italy and Australia. The rest can go wherever they like as far as I’m concerned as long as it isn’t just for money on a boring Tilkedrome! I’d keep the classics thought such as Spa and Monaco for obvious reasons.

        • Diego (@ironcito) said on 19th June 2013, 4:36

          @vettel1 Brazil too. Three former world champions, and always providing new drivers. I can also see the case for a race in the US. Even though F1 is not very popular there, they do have a lot of racing, and it’s a huge market.

          • Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 19th June 2013, 8:29

            @ironcito I knew I’d forgotten at least one! I’d keep the big markets but that’s up to Bernie to decide and shift – I was just stating the ones that should be retained regardless!

          • Diego (@ironcito) said on 19th June 2013, 10:24

            @vettel1 I’d probably add Japan too. No truly great F1 drivers, but they’ve always been a part of F1 on the technical side, and there’s always a lot of fans at Suzuka. So maybe 10 venues with a F1 heritage and a solid fan base. Still plenty of room left in the calendar to expand to new places and try different things.

  5. I Love the Pope said on 18th June 2013, 3:52

    Reading this and the article on Gonzalez makes me appreciate the history Ferrari has, not to mention Mercedes and McLaren. But there is something about the Scuderia, isn’t there? They drive me crazy sometimes, but they are fascinating none the less.

  6. Abdurahman (@) said on 18th June 2013, 6:28

    please more articles like these, love em!

  7. jh1806 (@jh1806) said on 18th June 2013, 8:01

    It would be interesting if today’s drivers had to fix mechanical problems such as the one Hulme experienced with this throttle…then being able to turn off a rev limiter for that extra power to make the time back up, whilst exercising caution to not over-rev the engine. Great stuff!

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 19th June 2013, 8:06

      It defenitely explains why there was no need for things like DRS or tyres manufactured to last only a 3rd of the race – the cars themselves (and the tyres) offered enough trouble/challenges for the drivers as it was!

  8. Thomas Svensson (@thomas-svensson) said on 18th June 2013, 8:25

    Thank you for a very good article about my childhood hero Ronnie Petersson

  9. I just love the look of that Lotus.

  10. Matt Clark (@mattc888) said on 19th June 2013, 5:06

    Awesome article, cheers.

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